Bettering the Best

Friday Flyer #6: A Look at Tournament Play Best Practices

When I started this idea of a column a few weeks ago, I planned to hit on Expanded a pretty great deal in this early portion. As it happens, that has turned out to be a bit of a miss—other stuff has been more important, it’s been unavoidable that I talk about Standard, whatever may be. As it happens, October’s scheduling puts us in another spot where I’d have initially discussed Expanded today, but believe the better use of time will instead be to concentrate those efforts on my Tuesday article—there may be some Standard stuff I mix in there, but we’ll see how Memphis turns out before making a solid call on that either way.

As we sit on the eve of another Regional Championship, I instead want to refresh one of the more timeless “skills” topics: how to advocate for yourself in ensuring the games of Pokémon you participate in are played fairly and according to the rules as written. Think of this as a bunch of those “pro-tips” I endeavored to include at the end of all of these (then promptly forgot half the weeks) on one subject placed in once place. It’s maybe a slightly depressing one, but it’s a good one nonetheless to discuss as we get into the bulk of the year’s upper level competitions—with more coming on the schedule every day.

  • Mark your match slips. This is a low-cost way to prevent yourself from having a sticky he-said-she-said conversation, low as those odds may be, while also enabling you to provide judges with more information as they walk by your table. Providing more information like that is never a bad thing to do. Do this.
  • In that vein, mark the match slip before picking up your cards. This is slightly pedantic, and only marginally helpful, but it’s far easier to resolve such a contentious conversation when there is still evidence of the board state at play. It hasn’t happened to be a problem very often, but it definitely has happened in the course of the last few years.
  • Vary your treatment of your opponent’s deck. I am not in the “shuffle every time” camp because I believe it gives unscrupulous actors a valuable chance at final control of the top of their deck. Some disagree. That’s fine. That’s a better step than cutting midway every time, certainly. Preferably, vary high/low/middle/shuffles. In any event, you should attempt to be your own advocate on this, because judges can’t be everywhere to see every instance of iffy shuffling.
  • Take your actions with clarity. This includes counting out things like Night Marchers in your discard, announcing attack names, and announcing short cuts in a very clear manner. This isn’t something I always do myself when playing, but I do try to make a habit of doing it frequently, because it both helps you keep your play less error-prone and keeps your opponent from exploiting any gaps. Here’s a really good example: I would never play 2 Nest Ball from my hand “playing both”—technically speaking, a rules lawyer could make a legitimate case to say the first Nest Ball was obviously failed, as you played a second without retrieving a target from the deck. That’s not to say a judge wouldn’t also point out that you failed to shuffle, meaning you couldn’t have left the 1st Nest Ball to begin with, but that’s not something you can be sure of. Take variables like this out of others’ hands and play clearly, cleanly, and specifically.
  • Don’t hesitate to call a judge if you have an issue. This could be a pace of play issue, confusion over the number of cards in your opponent’s hands, whatever—I guarantee you the judge doesn’t mind. For sure, the judge far appreciates catching an issue earlier on than it coming up 3 turns later and necessitating complex rewinds. If your opponent is the specter that intimidates you, my advice is to not let that be. I realize that’s hard, and coming from me sort of a non-relatable statement for much of the community—especially when your opponent is a big name. Frankly, if an opponent is offended over that sort of thing, they’re not someone whose respect you want anyway (of course, frivolous slow play complaints are probably an aside to that—not good).
  • Make sure your sleeves are consistent. Some brands that issue in 100s or 50s or whatnot can have considerable variance box-to-box. This is not the kind of penalty you want to deal with. Take the extra time to look over your sleeves before the day begins and avoid trouble later.
  • Don’t be afraid to clarify an opponent’s actions. You’re just as responsible for the legality of their play. Make sure you know what’s going on.

All in all, try to have some fun in the meantime! There’s a lot that goes on sometimes, but it’s important to remember that all players are on the same playing field—and it needs to be that way.

Don’t flip a coin to decide a match. Don’t cheat. Have a great weekend.


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